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Japanese Comfort Foods That Go Beyond Sushi Or Ramen

tamagoyaki

Photo: Laura Tomàs Avila

I didn’t realize how much Japanese comfort food is slept on. I’ve had it many times, but usually just order the same things. Like any culture, the cuisine is vast, and Japanese cuisine is more than just sushi and ramen. Many familiar dishes have existed for hundreds of years. Sushi in particular is estimated to have been around for 1,800 years. So just imagine all of the dishes you’ve yet to try.

pikunico kuniko yagi

With Los Angeles having the second highest Japanese population in the United States, it’s the perfect place to experience Japan’s world of comfort food. One person that’s making an impact in Los Angeles’ dynamic dining scene is Chef Kuniko Yagi. As the former executive chef of Michelin-starred restaurant Sona, contestant on Bravo’s Top Chef, and current owner of karaage (Japanese-style) fried chicken spot Pikunico, Chef Yagi knows delicious Japanese food. This deliciousness is confirmed by a slew of glowing reviews Pikunico has received since it’s opening. In hopes of sharing the dynamic world of Japanese comfort food, below is a list of six lesser known types you might enjoy — all with Chef Yagi’s own recommendations on where best to try them in Los Angeles.

Photo: Buenosia Carol on Pexels, Free to use

1. Japanese Curry

Hugely popular in the country, curry was introduced to Japan by way of Europe’s spice imports from India in the late 1800s. It’s typically served with rice, potatoes, carrots, and onions and is a milder, sweeter counterpart to Indian curry. Japanese curry also varies from Indian in that beef and pork are more commonly used rather than chicken and mutton.

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

Coco IchibanyaThe place to go when you’re craving any type of curry and want it ASAP! It’s a Japanese fast food franchise, so expect a Burger King vibe, but with one of the most creative and extensive curry menus in LA.

Photo: untitled_folder on Flickr, CC by 2.0

2. Japanese Omelet

A unique take on the French creation, the Japanese omelet, mostly known as “tamagoyaki,” or grilled egg in English, is commonly served alongside sushi. Unlike western omelets, tamagoyaki isn’t served with filling but rather is rolled together using layers of egg. There are two types of tamagoyaki: atsu-yaki-tamago and dashi-maki-tamago. The first type is a thick fried egg and the latter is a rolled egg with dashi (cooking stock). Each type can be prepared sweet or savory. 

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

OtafukuWhen you’re in the South Bay and craving Japanese, Otafuku is a must! It’s very low-key and unassuming, but they have an extensive, delicious menu. Their Japanese-style omelet is a must. Their seasoning with mirin, dashi, and salt make each bite so delicious.

Photo: Arnold Gatilao on Wikimedia commons, CC by 2.0

3. Potato Salad

Potato salad is a staple of Japanese home cooking. Differing from American-style in texture and taste, Japanese potato salad is mashed with chunks of vegetables and sometimes ham. While the ingredients are similar to Western potato salad, the  version here is made with Japanese mayonnaise and rice vinegar, giving it more of a tangy twist.  

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

Nijiya MarketAn unassuming storefront leads into a well-stocked Japanese grocer, complete with produce, ready-to-eat foods and specialty snacks. Our favorite thing by far is the Japanese potato salad at the prepared foods bar: mashed potatoes coated lightly with Japanese mayo create a unique combination of creamy, sweet and tangy flavors!

 
Photo: Nakano Mune on Flickr, CC by 2.0

4. Yakisoba (Stir Fried Noodles)

Yakisoba, or “fried buckwheat,” is a popular Japanese stir-fry dish which originates from China. Although “soba,” which means buckwheat, is a part of the word, it is actually made using wheat flour. Yakisoba is typically prepared stir-fried with bite-sized pork, vegetables (usually carrots, onions or cabbage) and flavored with yakisoba sauce, salt and pepper. Yakisoba sauce is made from sake, mirin, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, Tonkatsu sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar, giving it a sweet and sour taste.

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

IchimiCharacterized as a “soba-intensive noodle shop” by the LA Times, this restaurant, tucked away in the Rolling Hills Plaza, will fulfill all your soba dreams and needs. They import their buckwheat from Japan and take care in creating each dish — and it shows. 

 
Photo: Ernesto Andrade on Flickr, CC by 2.0

5. Karaage (Japanese Fried Meat)

Karaage is a style of Japanese cooking involving deep-frying breaded meats like fish and more commonly, chicken. Meats are typically marinated in soy sauce, rice wine and ginger beforehand, resulting in a juicy inside and crispy outside. Commonly sold at open markets on skewers, karaage comes in variations that include sesame, garlic or pepper. Karaage is often accompanied by veggies or a bed of rice with a range of dipping sauces.

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

PikunicoChef Kuniko Yagi’s first stand alone project at Row DTLA centers around Japanese fried chicken (karaage), a dish she would get every Sunday from her grandma’s favorite Tokyo department store for a Sunday picnic supper with the family. Yagi’s nostalgic take on her favorite Japanese comfort food brings to life the delicate flavor and umami of karaage with more of an American fried chicken crunch through her homemade organic brown rice flour and potato starch batter.

 

Photo: Guilhem Vellut on Flickr, CC-BY

6. Cha-han (Stir Fried Rice)

Thought to have originated from Chinese immigrants, Cha-han is a fried rice dish which includes a wide assortment of ingredients: vegetables, onion, garlic, shitake mushrooms, tofu, pork, various seafoods, scrambled egg, and ground beef to name a few. The dish’s seasoning can vary between soy sauce and oyster sauce, sesame oil, salt, pepper or katsuobushi, a dried and flaked tuna product. 

Chef Kuniko Yagi’s Recommendation:

KourakuThis is the place to go when you’re in the mood for some comfort food. It’s a Japanese style diner and open until 3 am Monday-Saturday, making it perfect for a late-night stop any day of the week. Just keep in mind it’s cash only!

Additional Chef Kuniko Recommendation:

YakitoriyaThis is truly one of the hidden gems of Japantown in Los Angeles. When passing by, it might not appear to be much, but venture inside this family-owned and operated Japanese grilled chicken joint and you will not be disappointed!

As you can see, Japanese comfort food goes far beyond mere ramen and sushi. With Little Tokyo so close, us Angelenos are spoiled with many options. But for those who don’t have pockets of Japanese communities in their cities, recipes and local restaurants are an easy Google search away. The next time you’re in need of some Japanese comfort, perhaps try something new, instead of a familiar go-to.

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Top Chef Shirley Chung’s Twist On Wontons Involves Mac ‘N Cheese & Chili Oil Ketchup

A Top Chef runner-up is bringing her dumpling game to a brand new Los Angeles food hall, including an exclusive wonton stuffed with mac and cheese that’s part of a limited collab.

Located at the new The Fields LA food hall in Exposition Park, Ms Chi is Chef Shirley Chung’s playground to transform Chinese-American dishes to new heights. One of the ways she’s doing that is with Mac N Cheese Wontons, stuffed with creamy, cheesy pasta and served with a spicy chili oil ketchup.

To celebrate the new food hall, just outside of downtown Los Angeles, and Chef Chung’s newest spot, she’ll be giving out these wontons through the Hubert’s Food Truck on Friday, November 9th, at The Fields. They’ll be paired alongside bottles of Hubert’s Blackberry Lemonade.

If you’re interested in trying out this spin on wontons for yourself, head to foodbeast.com/huberts for more information on how to get in on this exclusive culinary drop.

Photos by Pete Pham


Created in partnership with Hubert’s Lemonade

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Culture Restaurants

Restaurant Gives Raw Look At Mexican Culture With Day Of The Dead Altar

Anytime a restaurant can incorporate authentic pieces of the chef’s culture, it’s a treat for the diner to not only learn, but appreciate something different than what they may be used to.

In honor of Dia de los Muertos, El Jardin in San Diego, California is displaying an altar de ofrendas, or an offering altar, giving an authentic look at what the Mexican tradition looks like.

El Jardin teamed up with Artlexia, a San Diego shop known for celebrating Mexican culture and tradition, in creating this altar.

When the Disney Pixar movie “Coco” released in 2017, the world was given a very colorful and intimate look at what Dia de los Muertos means to the Mexican Catholic community — but that was limited to the big screen. Former Top Chef contestant Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins is giving a real life look at the traditional celebration through her restaurant, as she will keep the altar up through the month of October, and into the official end of the holiday on November 2.

“We really want to showcase what Mexico is, in the rawest form,” Zepeda-Wilkins said.

Chef Claudette’s altar is very much genuine, as it is in honor of her grandmother and her friends. She has four photos of her grandmother as the centerpieces, and has kept all of the offerings traditional and straightforward.

On November 1, El Jardin will have Chef Joe Sasto join the Dia de los Muertos festivities, as they will have a special dinner in honor of both Sasto’s mother, and Zepeda-Wilkins’ grandmother consisting of both their favorite dishes.

“It’s kind of my offering,” Chef Claudette said of the dinner. “It’s a family affair, through and through.”

This is the second time Zepeda-Wilkins has put up an altar, but the first was when she served as chef de cuisine at Javier Plascencia’s Bracero Cocina de Raiz.

Now that she has a restaurant of her own, she decided to create an altar again, and share it with the outside world to celebrate with her.

“Mexico is the new black, and Mexico is hip to a lot of people, but Day of the Dead is one of those celebrations that predates the Spanish arriving to Mexico. I wanted to make sure that I showcase what it actually is, instead of some ‘Coco’ movie prop.”

Chef Claudette has rooted her restaurant in tradition, serving her takes on Mexican dishes, but she has added another, incorporating one of the most personal pieces of Mexican culture.

For Zepeda-Wilkins, it’s more than just serving food at her restaurant — it’s about embracing her Mexican culture and sharing it with others to celebrate with her.

“You give to your family, and then your family gives to you when you leave. It’s this beautiful notion that death isn’t sad. You don’t mourn the dead, you celebrate the dead.”

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Top Chef Amar Santana Has A Luxurious Uni Scrambled Egg Dish You Need In Your Mouth Right Now

Amar Santana is a product of Queens, New York, but has found a new home on the West Coast, as chef and partner of Vaca in Costa Mesa, and Broadway By Amar Santana in Laguna Beach, California.

After finishing as a finalist on Bravo’s well-known culinary elimination show, Top Chef, in 2016, it’s safe to say Santana’s culinary resume is intimidating.

Yet, his humble demeanor paired with his competitive passion for cooking – along with an outside-the-box approach in creating vibrant, imaginative delicacies – is exactly what makes this Southern California chef and his cuisine “Foodbeast Approved.”

Recently, FOODBEAST was able to catch up with Chef Santana at Vaca, a Spanish-style tapas restaurant in Costa Mesa, where he whipped up one of the most elegant items on the menu.

Erizos con huevos, softly translated to “uni scrambled eggs,” consists of a freshly cut sea urchin with a mixture of soft scrambled eggs, served with toast and housemade miso butter.

If you’ve never had sea urchin before, don’t let this enigma deter you. The Erizos con huevos is creamy and full of umami, and manages to be the shining star despite a Vaca menu consumed with meaty options like Jamon de Iberico and pork belly.

Vaca is located in Costa Mesa – also known as ‘City of the Arts’ – a bustling neighborhood on the Newport Beach border full of good food and culture. If you hadn’t heard of this spot previously, it’s for certain Amar Santana and Vaca should be on your radar in 2018.

To learn more about the Costa Mesa food scene, visit travelcostamesa.com/eatcation. Don’t forget to tag your photos with #eatcation!

Photos by Pete Pham


Created in partnership with Travel Costa Mesa

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Watch Top Chef Richard Blais Make Us His Iconic Fried Chicken Sandwich

For those who don’t consider fried chicken a delicacy — it’s probably because they’ve never tried The Crack Shack, one of San Diego’s most legendary fried chicken joints, led by well-known Top Chef and restaurateur, Richard Blais.

FOODBEAST recently caught up with Chef Blais at his newest Crack Shack location in Costa Mesa, California, to check out one of the most iconic fried chicken sandwiches ever created — the Firebird.

It all starts with The Crack Shack’s signature Nashville-style fried chicken. After marinating the chicken in buttermilk and pickle juice, the chicken is doused with a helping of “Crack spice” – a signature blend of herbs and spices – before it’s fried.

Now, it wouldn’t be fair to call this sandwich “The Firebird” without throwing this perfectly crispy chicken breast into something that’ll get your forehead sweaty, which is why every Firebird is dunked in a hot sauce blend of paprika and cayenne pepper right before it’s set on the toasted bun.

The Firebird comes together with a double helping of Ranch dressing on each bun, some fresh pickles and crispy onion straws.

Next time you’re craving fried chicken, just know that The Crack Shack is FOODBEAST Approved.

To plan out your next foodie-venture in Costa Mesa, visit travelcostamesa.com/eatcation and tag your pics with #eatcation!

Photos by Pete Pham


Created in partnership with Travel Costa Mesa

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John Besh Edited Out Of ‘Top Chef’ Episode Following Sexual Harassment Scandal

John Besh recently left his own restaurant group after 25 women came forward with accounts of sexual harassment to the Times-Picayune. The implications of that scandal are continuing to affect the embattled chef, as Bravo cooking competition show Top Chef had John Besh edited out of an upcoming episode.

Besh had filmed his parts in Top Chef months prior, according to Eater. Bravo had been evaluating how to move forward with the episode once news of the scandal surfaced, and came to a final decision that was announced just a few days ago.

Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio praised Bravo for their efforts in a statement to Eater:

“Ultimately it was their decision to make, and I know when it was brought up early on, when the stories first broke about John, their response was that they didn’t know how to edit him out, but they worked really hard to do that. So it’s great that they spent the time and did the right thing.”

Besh was included in the closing credits of the show’s recently aired premiere. However, Bravo has since edited him out of all versions of the episode available on streaming platforms, including YouTube. That shot has now been replaced with one of Chris Cosentino.

As more sexual harassment scandals continue to out some of the biggest names in the culinary world, similar actions are beginning to take place with others. Mario Batali, for example, was asked to step away from ABC’s The Chew and had his Molto Mario reboot cancelled by Food Network after women came forward with sexual harassment claims against him.

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Chick-fil-A Shares Sandwich Substitute For When They’re Closed on Sundays

We’re all familiar with the idea of Sundays being rest day, right? But if you’re a normal American with cravings for delicious fast food, Sundays can be a day of dread… especially if you love Chick-fil-A. I for one am amongst the ranks of chicken sandwich fiends that somehow always want Chick-fil-A in and around their mouths on the one day that it isn’t open.

However in comes some news that has me like hallelujah, shoutout to the chicken gawds! Chick-fil-A and Top Chef season 6 contender, Kevin Gillespie have shared a chicken sandwich recipe inspired by the restaurant’s OG money maker.

In the video above, Chef Kevin Gillespie shares that testing his “Closed-On-Sunday Chicken Sandwich” took weeks of trying to figure out the perfect balance of sweet and savory, that made the OG what it was.

Although, Chef Kevin admits that while there is no real replacement for the satisfaction from the real thing, the easy to follow recipe is his take on satisfying your chicken sandwich cravings without sacrificing flavor and cost.

Who knows how far or close he is from the OG Chick-fil-A recipe, but at least we normal people now have a base and the tools to satisfy our appetites for a fire chicken sandwich on a Sunday.

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‘Top Chef’ Alum Leaves Viral Immigration Message on His Restaurant’s Receipts

The above tweet showcasing a restaurant’s powerful message on immigrants has gone completely viral.

NBC News contributer Mary Emily O’Hara posted about a Brooklyn restaurant that left a message about immigrants in America on their receipts, and their simple message that “Immigrants Make America Great” has been retweeted nearly 100,000 times since its original posting.

It turns out that the Brooklyn restaurant in question, Kiwianis, is owned by Top Chef alum Mark Simmons.

In an interview with PIX11, Chef Simmons called the message he’s leaving on the receipts a form of “silent protest” and that while he doesn’t usually get political, he felt the need to respond to an executive order signed by President Donald Trump that barred entry of refugees and travelers from seven different countries.

“I think about the families being torn apart. Put yourself in their position, it would break me up.”

The actual restaurant employs staff from multiple countries, including Russia, China, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic, and one of them told PIX11 that the entire restaurant staff may be from different countries, but they’re all part of one family that works together to keep the restaurant running.

Chef Simmons plans to have the messages on the receipts for “as long as it takes”. What that actually means is yet to be seen, but it’s clear how he feels about President Trump’s executive order.

In the meantime, we’ll be inspired by Mark Simmons, the team at Kiwianis, and their efforts to let the world know that it takes a unique effort from people from all different backgrounds to make something amazing happen.